Skip to main content

Fishtown on the rise

East Girard Avenue, a commercial corridor in Philadelphia’s Fishtown community, is part of LISC MetroEdge’s Corridors of Retail Excellence program. To read more about how a model block and other projects will have an impact on East Girard, click here.

Catherine Jennings

Catherine Jennings recently opened a resale shop for home and decorative arts on East Girard Avenue. The store, Keys to the Attic, is in the middle of the future model block, which will demonstrate low-cost, high-impact revitalization ideas. She said she is excited about being part of the revival effort.

“It can’t do anything but help all of us,’’ Jennings says. “It’s great to have competition. It makes it a destination.”

Though this is her first storefront, Jennings owns several local residential apartment buildings and is enthusiastic about the lifestyle in Fishtown, which took its name from its former role as the center of the shad fishing business on the Delaware River.

“I’ve lived here since 1989, and it’s always been a blue-collar, family-oriented sort of place. It’s always been safe because of that,” she says. “About five to seven years ago, there began an influx of young professionals, artists, young hipsters. They like it because it’s safe, affordable and has great access to downtown, the transit system.”

Jennings doesn’t own a car; she said the twenty-somethings she frequently rents to often have cars but end up not using them. A Super Fresh food store is nearby, as are corner groceries. “You could even walk into center city from here,” she says. “It’s been an undiscovered gem for so long.”

Jennings’ store is sunny and airy, but when she bought it “the ceiling was coming down and the walls were crumbling,” she says. Now the walls are smooth and fans hang down from the restored ceiling. She sees plenty of opportunities on the street for others to follow suit.

Josh Olivio

Josh Olivo, a contractor who does real estate ventures with partners, agrees. He owns a building on the model block that he restored and is renting to Dash Deliveries, which is the middleman for delivering meals from local restaurants to neighborhood residents. He says he found the building’s beautiful decorative ironwork languishing in the basement “under six inches of dirt.”

In December, Olivo closed on a second building on the block, which housed a salon; he is now advertising for a retail tenant. He likes the possibilities he sees on East Girard, with established draws like the popular Johnny Brenda’s nightspot/restaurant on the corner of Frankford and East Girard and Kraftworks, a gastropub at 541 East Girard.

While patrons walk from one bar to the other, they pass his building and many others, like PUSH Skateboard Gallery, which features arts and home goods made from recycled skateboards, and Sketch, a burger bar becoming known far and wide for its vegan burger.

“We’re anchored,” Olivo says. “Infill is easier to accomplish.”

The eateries draw in customers from outside the neighborhood, as do several other area businesses, particularly home businesses such as Michael’s Decorators, a destination upholsterer. The SugarHouse Casino, which opened in 2010 as the first city casino, is a couple of blocks away on the Delaware River.

Penn Treaty Park

For housing, the neighborhood has many brick and clapboard row houses that closely line the neighborhood’s narrow streets. They’re still relatively affordable, and “for sale” signs are abundant as are signs of renovation.

Philadelphia LISC’s Andrew Frishkoff says the neighborhood is a healthy mix of both long-time residents and those who have moved in over the past 10 years.  The newer residents, he said, may be people who work in downtown Philadelphia as well as others involved in the arts who work in the surrounding neighborhoods.

On the riverfront, Penn Treaty Park is a leafy expanse with a spectacular view of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge and lots of dog owners romping with their pets. Nearby, two towers of luxury condominiums were redeveloped in 2012, and they’ve been marketed for proximity to “lively city neighborhoods.”

East Girard already has elements of that liveliness. There’s new sidewalks, new street trees and artsy lighted columns touting how the area’s history is entwined with that of the Lenape Native Americans.

The challenge, says consultant Larisa Ortiz of Larisa Ortiz Associates, is to move from such sprinkles of progress to creating a viable commercial district that encourages shoppers to roam from one shop to another. 

Posted in Commercial and Economic Development, Philadelphia

Stay connected

Stay up to date with news and events related to the Institute: